Dublin’s best pubs

Home to one of Dublin’s most popular beer gardens, the Bernard Shawalso houses an Italian cafe and a big blue bus, which whips up freshly-made pizza out back. If it looks thrown together, it acts like it too, hosting everything from a flea market every Saturday afternoon to regular pub quizzes, gigs, paint jams (to refresh the colourful graffiti) and even the world’s first coffee-throwing championship. If you want to explore further, head south across the bridge and you’ll find yourself in the trendy Rathmines neighbourhood.

Pet spaniels and eat spuds at MVP

With a wonderful combination of strong, original cocktails – ever heard of a Poitin Colada? –  and fresh baked potatoes to protect you from said cocktails, MVP (mvpdublin.com) is in vibrant Portobello, a stone’s throw away from the beautiful, tree-lined Grand Canal (and the childhood home of Leopold Bloom). It’s one of the few dog-friendly watering holes in Dublin, so you might meet some furry friends up until 10pm. Beat the barman at chess on Tuesday for a free pint and keep an eye out for regular Sing Along Socials where you can screech your heart out to your favourite songs without being judged.

Make yourself at home in House

Located across two former upper-class residences, House (housedublin.ie) is decorated in an eclectic Georgian style yet still manages to be both elegant and welcoming. Choose to hide beside the fire in the library, enjoy the sunlight through the bright windows of the conservatory or perch on a stool in the pantry. Surrounded by historical townhouses on charming, residential Leeson St, it has one of the nicest beer gardens in the city, with a cover that can withstand the temperamental weather. Open late Monday to Saturday and attracting an older, upscale crowd,  it’s a peaceful place to have a gin and tonic in the evening while enjoying the boppy swing soundtrack and sampling a cheese board.

 Sing along in the Cobblestone

Simply the best place to catch some Irish traditional music in Dublin city centre, the Cobblestone describes itself as a ‘drinking pub with a music problem’. It’s popular with Dubliners and tourists in equal measure, and everyone is welcome to join the free nightly music sessions. If you want to sit near the musicians, you’ll have to be quiet and respectful – head to the back of the bar for a chat. Use your visit as an excuse to explore the revitalised Smithfield area, complete with restaurants, cafes and the Old Jameson Distillery.

A historical trip through Ireland

Kick off in the Irish capital with an overview of the country’s history at the 1877-established National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology. Just some of its highlights are the world’s most complete collection of medieval Celtic metalwork, and four preserved Iron Age ‘bog bodies’ with intact features such as fingernails. Other exhibitions include Medieval Ireland, and Viking Ireland, featuring finds excavated at Dublin’s Wood Quay.

Brú na Bóinne

A Unesco World Heritage-listed wonder from around 3200 BC, the vast Neolithic necropolis Brú na Bóinne, 50km north of Dublin, predates both Stonehenge (by a millennia) and the Great Pyramids of Egypt (by six centuries). In fertile farmland scattered with standing stones, the complex encompasses three main burial tombs: Newgrange, a white quartzite-encircled grass-topped passage tomb measuring 80m in diameter and 13m high, which aligns with the winter solstice; Knowth, containing extraordinary passage-grave art; and sheep-roamed Dowth.

Less than 10km west, in the 18th-century town of Slane, coaching inn Conyngham Arms, makes a charming overnight stop.

Day 2

Hill of Slane

The Hill of Slane is where, allegedly, St Patrick lit a paschal (Easter) fire in 433 against the ruling of the Irish high king. Patrick then described the holy trinity to him by plucking a shamrock to illustrate the paradox of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one, kindling Christianity in Ireland. Only faint remnants of subsequent religious buildings here remain, but the views are sublime.

Hill of Tara

Once the home of ancient Ireland’s druids, followed by its high kings, the Hill of Tara is 24km south of Slane. This sacred site is one of the most important in Europe, with prehistoric burial mounds and a Stone Age passage tomb, dating back 5000 years. It’s steeped in Irish folklore and history, and visiting the grounds is free.

Glendalough

Glendalough’s Irish name, Gleann dá Loch, means ‘Valley of the Two Lakes’, and the Upper and Lower lakes at this spot 100km south of Tara – along with wild Wicklow Mountains scenery and a cache of religious relics – are magical. In 498, St Kevin set up here on the site of a Bronze Age tomb and the monastery later established here lasted until the 17th century. The Glendalough Visitor Centre (visitwicklow.ie/item/glendalough-visitor-centre) is a mine of information. Next door, the comfortable Glendalough Hotel, makes a convenient base.

Moone

Amid stone ruins 50km west of Glendalough, stop off to see the distinctive Moone High Cross. Dating from the 8th or 9th century, it’s renowned for its intricately carved biblical scenes.

Browne’s Hill Dolmen

Topped by Europe’s largest capstone, weighing over 100 tonnes, the 5000-year-old granite portal dolmen (tomb chamber) Browne’s Hill Dolmen sits about 20km south of Moone and is one of Ireland’s most intriguing prehistoric monuments.

Enniscorthy

A pivotal chapter in Irish history played out at Vinegar Hill, 53km south of Browne’s Hill, during the 1798 rebellion against British rule. Nearby, the National 1798 Rebellion Centre has evocative displays. The rebels used Norman-built Enniscorthy Castle as a prison; it’s now a museum with superb rooftop views.

Wexford town

Named Waesfjord (‘harbour of mudflats’) by the Vikings, who are thought to have landed here around 850, Wexford town is 22km south of Enniscorthy. Traces of the fort built by the Normans, who conquered it in 1169, are still visible in the grounds of the Irish National Heritage Park open-air museum.

Central Whites of Wexford has stylish rooms, restaurants and bars.

Day 4

Jerpoint Abbey

Medieval stone carvings are a highlight of the atmospheric Cistercian ruins of 12th-century-founded Jerpoint Abbey, some 60km northwest of Wexford in idyllic rural surrounds.

Kilkenny

Set on the swirling River Nore with a web of narrow laneways, Kilkenny is a 20km hop north of Jerpoint Abbey, and a contender for Ireland’s most spectacular city. Its ‘medieval mile’ stretches between 12th-century-established Kilkenny Castle and its monumental Cathedral of St Canice, on the site of a 6th-century abbey founded here by St Canice, Kilkenny’s patron saint. Today, it’s a creative hub, with works showcased at the National Craft Gallery.

Dunmore Cave

Glittering stalagmite- and stalactite-filled Dunmore Cave is a quick 10km zip north. History runs deep here: in 928 Vikings slaughtered 1000 people at nearby ring forts, and survivors sheltered here until the Vikings smoked them out. Excavations in 1973 uncovered their remains, along with Viking coins.

In Cashel, 60km southwest, appealing accommodation options include boutique Baileys Hotel.

North Wales On Advantures

Slate mining once dominated the economy in northwest Wales: slate from these hills supplied most of the roofs in Victorian Britain and was transported around the world. Its decline over the last century hit local communities hard and left quarried hillsides, great caverns and dark tunnels in its wake.

They’re all visible around the small town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. Surrounded on all sides by Snowdonia National Park, its quarry-scarred landscape means it didn’t qualify for park status. Yet the area has a hard beauty of its own, and once you head downwards you discover another world. You can explore the Llechwedd Slate Caverns just outside town via numerous tours, and adventurous can spend two hours exploring the eerily magnificent mines on a Caverns tour, using zip lines, rope bridges and footholds hammered into the walls, gazing into dark holes and across cathedral-sized caves. It’s a great feeling – you get to put your hands on history, and set your heart pounding.

If that sounds a bit much, operators Zip World also offer Bounce Below, a series of enormous interconnected trampolines and slides. Trampolining in a cave is a unique experience, and the atmospheric lighting and chiselled walls around you give the giggling fun of bouncing up and down a nice counterpoint.

Fly high and low on record-breaking zip lines

Zip World Velocity is the world’s fastest zip line © Zip World

Outdoor zip lines offer up a different perspective. You can build up quite a lick heading down these, a physical thrill that’s matched by the awesome spectacle of North Wales swooshing by beneath you. Blaenau Ffestiniog’s three zip lines take you down from the hills above to the mine itself. At Bethesda, northwest of Blaenau, Zip World Velocity (zipworld.co.uk) boasts the longest line in Europe and the fastest (up to 100mph) in the world.

Go Below offers three types of tour including a ride across an underground lake © Go Below Underground Adventures

More records are smashed elsewhere. Go Below, outside the appealing town of Betws-y-Coed, has the world’s longest underground zip line and can take you to the deepest point in Britain that’s accessible to the public – almost 400m below ground.

Snowdon: a mountain for all comers

Betws-y-Coed is a great base for exploring Snowdon, at 1085m the highest point in England and Wales. It’s famous for its views (to Ireland on a – rare – clear day), legends (it’s said to be the tomb of a giant slain by King Arthur) and the fact that you can get a train to its summit. That accessibility is a big part of its appeal, and there are numerous ways to tackle the mountain, from the 120-year-old railway and the zig-zagging Miners’ Track to challenging climbing pitches and notorious Crib Goch (a knife-edge arête with a steep slope on one side and a sheer drop on the other).

Exploring Snowdonia National Park

Snowdon is the best known – and busiest – feature of Snowdonia National Park, which stretches over 823 sq miles of peaks, valleys, forests and coastline. But there are arguably even better walks to be had in other parts. The Glyders mountain range is a steep mass of broken rocks whose heather- and boulder-covered upper reaches feel like another planet. Tryfan, the most iconic of its peaks, offers invigorating scrambling routes and is topped with two rocks called Adam and Eve – the bold can leap between the two for good luck. Further south, Cader Idris is popular with walkers and climbers, while the park as a whole was made a Dark Sky Reserve in 2015 in tribute to its clear air.

Mountain biking

Exploring Wales needn’t just be done in walking boots – the country has some of the world’s best mountain biking facilities. East of the national park, towards Wrexham, Coed Llandegla is a forest reserve with trails operated by Oneplanet (oneplanetadventure.com) that run the gamut from gentle, family-orientated routes to viciously steep ascents and hardcore jumps and drops. The impressive skills zone is a good place to practice, and the blue trail is great for beginners who want downhill sections that exhilarate without being petrifying.

Back in the national park, Coed y Brenin (beicsbrenin.co.uk), near Dolgellau, was the UK’s first dedicated mountain bike centre and now has eight trails including extensive singletrack.